All The Rivers: A Novel by Dorit Rabinyan

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“I just can. I can see you’re a good girl.”

I think about what my father would say about his good girl if he knew I was getting on a train with a strange man, an Arab, someone I only met a few hours ago.”

Isn’t it sad that there is so much hatred laid upon us, depending what side of the road, or country we are born on/in? We are so very divided, and we forbid our loved ones happiness with another because of our political views, and even our ethnicity. It’s not that simple, isn’t that always the argument? All the horrific crimes our ancestors committed upon each other becomes this poisonous fear, this curse  we pass on to our offspring. Here is a raw truth- no one is ‘the good one’ nor ‘the right one’.

This is forbidden love in the extreme, an Israeli young woman and a Palestinian man. When Liat allows Hilmi to see her bible, given to her when she was in the Israeli army he tells her, “Yeah, well.” He nods sadly. “Just like in Hamas.” He puts the bible back on the nightstand. “With the Kalashnikov and the Koran.” She immediately takes offense, hotly denying the similarities, of religion and war. But the self-righteousness of her own side, the ridiculousness of the tiresome fight seeps out of her. This is how we get to such a place of hatred.  Two people that should hate each other, have fallen in love. Is it doomed? Do you have to wonder? When she learns Hilmi went to prison while she was a soldier, she cannot believe it was for painting a flag on a wall in Hebron.  Soured that he was treated as a terrorist,  so young too, explaining how colors were against the law- she is seeing her people from his perspective. Maybe love can do that, open your eyes to what goes unnoticed in your country, your home.

You can take any country at war with another and know without a doubt that even your own people do heinous things. To blindly believe your people alone are always on the side of right is madness. To believe that all people that come from a country are inherently evil seems a way to exonerate your own evil deeds. There is so much intolerance here, and guess what- I see it in my own country, I have seen it in countries I have traveled to and lived in. People live to divide I suppose, but they can come together too. Sadly, most people aren’t willing to lose their family for love, and how sad that is the choice they are often given.

We know Liat’s family is never going to accept Hilmi, an artist that was raised by an atheist father or no- no way. Is it because he is Arab or is it because he isn’t Jewish. She doesn’t want her parents to know, and her sister thinks this should just be some adventurous fling, certainly not someone she will risk bringing into the family. Soon she isn’t even telling her Israeli friends the truth about the man she is dating. This story causes some discomfort for both sides, I am sure, exposes things that are likely ignored. This line was intense, full of meaning. “How strange  the reversal is- seeing us from the outside, looking in from the neighbors’ window, seeing ourselves from the hidden side of the mirror.”  Would that we all could do this, how much of the world change, how much would we all question our staunch beliefs. This novel is political and the love is fresh, fast and doomed. If you want to play around and change the ethnicity of the characters, you do so or reverse the roles, the point is- good and bad is a clouded thing. What do we have in common? The ability to love and accept , sure maybe it can change and save us but sadly we also have blinders on. We often do not want to see the other side of any argument that goes against our own truths.

One is an idealist, the other a Zionist and where can they meet in the middle? What the reader can is see that through their differences, even equal hatred , they are more tightly bound. They are neighbors, they sleep with the enemy. They are stuck! Even meeting his family it’s “You Israelis”, both Liat and Hilmi have to carry everything their “people” do and think, defend or deny. That would be a constant were they able to join forever. Thinking on this, plop your American self in another country and eventually you too will encounter someone that holds everything Americans have done against you. It may be quietly, less violently but it’s there all the same. Families can really get in the way, even if we can rise above our differences, it is a fresh hell to have to defend your love to your family and friends, to bring children up in hostility, children that are part of both worlds. Is it easier to just enjoy the moment and move on?

What if there isn’t a choice, ever? Is there ever really a choice for Liat and Hilmi? Which side is wrong? Is love ever wrong? Can it be?

This is more than just forbidden love, I cannot imagine the fight for a Palestinian and an Israeli in love. By chance I recently read an article in The Telegraph about this very book being banned in classrooms of Israeli. From what I gathered in the article neither side is thrilled about the prospect of mixed marriages between the two. I didn’t even know Jews are not allowed to marry non-Jews in Israel. I imagine this novel is a much hotter topic in the two countries than here in the USA. But, I am reminded of past forbidden couplings through time in our own land. Easy to imagine, well not us, but there are still a lot of forbidden relationships, or ones our families would disown some of us over.

Why can’t we all get along? We can try, if other people would just let us. Provocative literature here, enough that it was banned elsewhere.

Publication Date: April 25, 2017

Random House

 

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